(Post re-share from Jan. 2015)
“Just a quick in-and-out, I’m serious. No screwing around. Food, bottled water, warm clothes. Got me?” Mac’s harsh whisper caught as he gave us each a serious look. His face was covered in two-day old grime, the smell of the marsh water still clinging to his jeans where we’d waded across the shallows. “Any sign of Feeders and you scramble. Meet back up at The Point. Loaded?”
I watched as Duke and Jacob double checked the ammunition in their rifles, Kaleb pulling out the two knives he packed on his hips, and Gabe feeling for extra shotgun shells in his pockets. I didn’t need to reaffirm my weapon’s readiness- I could feel the weight of the quiver holding my arrows on my back, my bow laying securely across my knees.
Mac examined both handguns he carried and tightened the straps across his shoulders supporting a backpack full of smoke bombs and firecrackers. Surprisingly enough, both things had come in handy many times before. Feeders were easily distracted by the bright colors the firecrackers emitted and the smoke bombs lulled them to a trance-like halt – both reactions making them easier targets. We’d raided every Fourth of July firework stand we’d come across in our travels.
“You know the drill. Duke, Jacob – you take the back. Gabe and Kaleb you’re with me – we’ll hit the front. Nora, you find the high ground. I want you sitting this one out until your leg heals,” Mac said, pointing to me. He gestured to my bow and continued: “Quiet kills, pick them off. Then signal us in.”
Nodding, I abandoned the group, heading north toward the run down diner we’d chosen. We’d scoped for almost a week, noting the movement of the Feeders choosing it as home base. I knew of only four who’d chosen it as their nest – two males and two females. All of them looked to have been in their early twenties when they’d been infected, meaning they were athletic Feeders. In their prime: fast runners, good jumpers, strong muscles, and quick rebound healers.
I made slow progress, hindered by my injured ankle. The extra weight of the soreness forced my feet to crunch uncomfortably loud on the underbrush, a flush reddening my cheeks at my own clumsiness. Thank God none of the guys were around to witness me hobbling through the woods like an untrained child.
Spotting the faint glow of the neon diner sign flashing through the branches, I lowered to a crouch, my eyes scanning quickly for any movement. If the Feeders were following their normal schedule, they were all closer to the marsh at the moment. They were predictable creatures in this aspect; it was as if they could only travel a certain rotation at certain times of the day.
That, however, was where their predictability ended. The Feeders we faced were nothing like the zombies we had all read about in books and watched on t.v. shows before The Infection. The Feeders were excellent hunters, feared predators – not brain dead.
I knew my objective was to pick off as many of the four as I could on their return as silently as possible. The thing Mac took for granted about silent kills was they required head shots. Feeders made a lot of noise if they were nailed in the heart or the stomach.
Lucky for Mac, I was good with a bow.
My ankle didn’t make it easy finding a tree deemed accessible. First chance I got, I scrambled up the branches of a tree lining the cut where the little diner sat. It must have been a charming place back in it’s prime. Probably broadcasted the best homemade, cherry pie in the whole state, like every other diner did on the face of the earth.
Glancing down at my watch, I knew the feeders wouldn’t be returning for another ten minutes, maybe eleven. That was good; gave me some time to rest and calm my nerves. Thinking back on earlier events of the day, I cursed myself for being so hot-headed. If I had just held my temper- my ankle wouldn’t be swollen two sizes too big, my head wouldn’t be pounding trying to combat the pain, and my ego wouldn’t be bruised.
The thing was, the guys in Mac’s group didn’t take into account the life I had led before The Infection. They only saw me as a girl, an accessory to be used to their advantage in certain situations – most of these situations being small spaces their large frames couldn’t fit through. Useful but weak and not up to par ninety-percent of the time. They had no respect for the knowledge I’d accumulated, the things I’d learned in my six months of traveling alone. They took for granted my speed, the strength of my eyes, the quickness of my reflexes. None of the guys thought I had much of a brain in my head and often spoke of me as if I wasn’t standing right there. Turns out The Infection didn’t just create Feeders to tear the world down but chauvinistic assholes as well.
Little did Mac’s group know, nor care to know, anything about the training I’d had growing up. Or the ten weeks I’d done at Fort Jackson after I’d graduated high school. They didn’t observe my skills close enough to put two-and-two together: I was military blood.
For the most part, those cocky jerks barely looked past the curve of my ass long enough to say “thank you” when I brought back forest kills for food at night or fish I’d netted.
I’d spent half a year completely alone; no human interaction or the sound of another voice. No warmth of a laugh or harshness of an angry retort. Just me. And Feeders. I’d made more kills as an individual in that time then Gabe, Kaleb, Duke, and Jacob combined since The Infection.
Mac, though, Mac treated me with respect and dignity. He was the only one who could one-up me; he’d discovered me while I had been scouting their groups’ movement not even a month prior. I’d agreed to take my place among them when he admitted he would appreciate my talents. Mac knew me for what I was but kept the information to himself.
When I’d lost my temper.
6 hours earlier
“Took you long enough,” Gabe whistled, shucking his shirt to rub some antibiotic ointment I’d managed to nab from a pharmacy a week earlier on his shoulder cuts.
“Big talk coming from the guy using medicine I got for him,” I stammered, gently tossing a stringer full of dove against the closest tree. “Give it here, your hands are dirty, moron. Can’t fight infection with dirty hands. Where is everybody?”
Jumping at the cold touch of my hands on his shoulder, Gabe shook his head silently.
“Said they found a cabin about a mile up the ridge,” he mumbled, relaxing slightly as I dabbed at a cut further down his back. “I didn’t want to bother with them. Thought I’d stay and make sure you came back.”
Laughing, I touched at the last scratch along his spine, knowing he was teasing.
“Whatever you gotta tell yourself. The diner looks like a decent kill for tonight,” I said. Barbed wire had nicked several spots down Gabe’s spine, creating bloody pools of polka dots like a morbid connect-the-dots game. “I’ve got their schedule down. We go tonight, move out in the morning, I think it’d be good. We need change.”
Gabe nodded in agreement, reaching above his neck to slide his t-shirt back on. It was still warm for September, the summer barely fading into fall, but I could feel the light snip of a cold front moving this way.
Hearing the sudden snap of a branch, I turned to widen my stance, my fists raised in alarm.
“Chill, wee bit,” Luke chuckled, tossing me a bag of something soft. “Don’t think any of that will fit us but might fit you. Grabbed you a couple things to layer up for the cold.”
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou